The Blessing, Numbers 6.22-27: A Page from My Journal ... January 12, 1997I offer this meditation from my private journal written nearly ten years ago. As I recall it was inspired by a moment of delight in being a dad. The text of my meditation was the Priestly blessing in Numbers. I have never done this before ... but here it is ...
Our postmodern world is searching for a blessing! It is a world searching for meaning. People today wonder if there is a God. And if there is a God, does he care for me? Does he bless me? Is he concerned with me?
A Spanish philosopher by the name of Unamuno asserts there is no blessing to life. "Since we live only in and by contradictions, since life is tragedy and the tragedy is perpetual struggle, without victory or the hope of victory, life is contradiction." The Humanist Manifesto II (a thoroughly modernist document) declares that faith in a 'prayer-hearing' God is outmoded and unproved faith. They declare that even if God does exist he will not save us, we must save ourselves.
Most people grant the existence of God. But I suspect that many often wonder, if not out loud, at least to ourselves "does God really care?" I have often secretly asked the question.
This text today is a familiar one. I have probably read it a hundred times and used at the end of worship services many times. Or heard people use it in prayer. It is so common simply because it speaks powerfully of God's care for us.
Numbers 6: 22-27 is short and to the point - a mere 15 words in Hebrew. Yet so comforting to believers. This text declares that God is not impotent in relation to human need. He takes the initiative to do what we cannot do. He ACTS! He changes things.
The text reads;
24 The LORD bless you and keep you;
25 the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the LORD turn his face/lift up his eyes and give you peace.
27 So they will put my name on the Israelites and I will bless them.
God created humans in the beginning to be with him. To share communion with him. He created us in his image. He created man to bless man. But we fell. The early history of man is dominated by a curse. Because man fell we were separated from God, alienated from one another and without peace.
So according to the biblical story God called Abram, specifically to reverse the curse. Scripture quotes Yahweh saying, "I will bless you . . . I will bless those who bless you" (Gen. 12:3). So in a real sense the history of Israel is not only the history of salvation it is the history of God's blessing on humanity.
In this text God says to Aaron and the priests of old "I want you to publicly bless my people. I want them to know that I care for them." There are three main lines to Aaron's blessing each getting progressively longer with 3, 5, and 7 words respectively per line in the Hebrew text. This give the impression of great movement. It is like the Mississippi River, it is so small at its beginning you can step across it, but when it gets to New Orleans it is a mighty torrent. That is how God's blessing is on his people.
God certainly cares for his people. Six actions of God are mentioned in our text: blessing and keeping; shines and gracious; turns his face and gives peace. All of these are gifts of God to his people -- they constitute his blessing on his people. "The Lord bless you and keep you." When the Lord enters into a covenant with his people he blesses them. The result of God's blessing is not only spiritual but also earthly. Moses tells us in Deut. 28: 1-14 of all the blessings God gives us and the amazing thing about them is how earthly they are.
God takes care of his people because he cares far us. But also one specific result of blessing mentioned by God here is that God keeps his people. That is significant. It is also Good News! I may fail God and I will. I may wander in the wilderness and we all have and will again. The good news is that I may fail but God won't. It is no mistake that the word here in our text is LORD and not God. That is because LORD is God's special covenant name with Israel. He is faithful and keeps his people even when we fail. This very idea is expanded in Christ. Peter says that Christians are "shielded by the power of God until the coming day of salvation..." (1 Peter 1:5). And Jude, the Lord's brother, puts it this way "To him who is able to keep you from falling and present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy" (v-24). God cares about his people that is why he blesses us by keeping us.
But the blessings get even better because "the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious toward you" This special blessing expels the idea of a cold distant God once and for all! With vivid and bold metaphor God directs Aaron to say publicly that God's face shines upon us. Another scripture captures the same image using different words, its one of my favorite verses in the Bible: "the Lord is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing" (Zeph. 3:17). This text affirms that not only does God care for his people that he loves them and delights in us. The image is that God is so happy or delighted with us that his face shines! and Zephaniah even says that he rejoices over us and sings. What blessings have come my way. He is my father.
When I put Rachael and Talya down for bed at night and we sing "I love you, you love me we’re a happy family." It thrills my heart to do that with them. That is how God is. He blesses us by smiling down at his children because of the sheer joy we bring to him. Yes, indeed, God cares for his people. The blessing results in "peace" from God. Aaron is instructed to use the singular "you" in our text. This is not just the nation as a whole he is blessing but individuals of the kingdom of God. The idiom translated as `turn his face' or `lift his eyes' is very powerful. It communicates that the Lord knows each and every one of us. He lifts up his eyes and sees ME! Out of the whole universe God knows me as an individual -- what a blessing.
But God knows us so he can give us peace. We cannot have peace without God. This again takes on great significance for us today. Paul tells us that Christ gave peace, made peace and is our peace! God indeed cares for his people that is why he blesses us. He even allowed Jesus to die for me because he wanted to bless me ... he wanted to be my Dad.
Israel believed this word of the Lord to Aaron. Notice that verse 27 says that when Aaron publicly blesses the people that the Lord would put his name on them. The ancient Israelites took this to heart – literally apparently. In 1979 an archeologist in Jerusalem discovered two small silver scroll amulets (similar to an ear ring). These amulets date to 600 B.C. and contain this text inscribed on them. They are the oldest known fragment of the Bible, over 400 years older than the Dead Sea Scrolls. The person wearing these amulets died in the destruction of Jerusalem, but his/her faith in the Lord has lasted 2600 yrs. As Israelites wore the Lord's name on them in the form of ear rings we have been given the name of his Son -- Christian. What blessings continue to flow from this text into our lives each and every day.
"Praise he to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ" (Eph. 1:3).